On Saturday, May 18, 2024, Politico reported that an upside-down American flag was briefly flown outside the home of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in January 2021, shortly after the 2020 election.

The flag, which was hung by Alito’s wife Martha-Ann, has historically been used as a sign of distress. However, in the context of January 2021, its meaning was seen by many as connected to former President Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud.

The revelation adds to concerns about the Supreme Court’s appearance of impartiality, as it is currently considering high-profile cases tied to the 2020 election and January 6th insurrection. Questions have been raised about whether Justices Alito and Clarence Thomas, whose wife was involved in efforts to overturn the 2020 result, should recuse themselves from matters relating to these issues.

Several Democratic members of Congress have called for Alito’s recusal, though the Justice did not comment and is not obligated to step aside. A justice’s spouses’ political views are a gray area for recusal, with no consensus on whether they impact a Justice’s ability to judge impartially. While Alito has said the flag was briefly flown by his wife amid a dispute with neighbors, and he had no part in it, its open display at his home reinforced criticism of the Court becoming too partisan.

The flag incident is the latest controversy surrounding the Supreme Court, which already faced sagging approval ratings after its June decision undoing federal abortion protections. Though justices adopted an ethics code last year, it lacks enforcement and the Court remains solely responsible for policing itself.

Some experts say this self-regulation can undermine public trust in the impartiality and integrity of the highest court. With no mechanism for sanctioning justices, perceived conflicts of interest or appearances of bias go unchecked. Some advocate giving responsibility for investigating such issues to an independent ethics panel.

As calls increase for transparency and accountability, the questions raised by this latest controversy will likely intensify the debate over the Supreme Court’s insulation from formal oversight and its ability to police itself impartially on issues of judicial ethics.



Source: Politico